I went to Scotland in late June of 2016. I had friends that got married in a castle in Ireland. Scotland has always been on my bucket list. Mmmm men in kilts. But honestly, there’s something “other” about this country. Their official animal is a unicorn, and they have whispers of monsters in Loch Ness. There’s a mystical quality to the less populated areas, you can almost believe the legends. Or maybe it was the scotch…
I started the trip with a group of 16 people. The organization for the trip after the wedding was a group of whisky-obsessed man children who wanted three days of three distilleries a day. (Said with love). Now, I enjoy scotch as much as the next person, but IMHO, once you go to a distillery you get a feel about how the process works. At the distilleries you’ll only find tourists, and I wanted to mingle with locals and other travelers. For my two cents, go hit one or two of the distilleries you’re really excited about. Then taste everything you can at the pubs and listen to live music.
Driving – Yeah, it’s scary. The roads are small, and so are the rental cars. (You want a small rental car). Best advice I can give you is to pack light and wash and rewear because you’re not going to be able to fit big suitcases comfortably in your rental car. Get the Navmii app so you can drive around without using your data or having a cell connection. (There are places you’re going to want to go in the middle of nowhere.)
When I’m planning a trip, one of the first things I do is put the location into Pinterest. I find the pictures and tips for things that speak to me and I go to there.
We landed in Edinburgh and headed straight to Dunnottor Castle was just ridiculous amazing out of this world beautiful and you should totally see it. It’s pronounced Dunn-ocht-tor. Get ready to have no idea what people are saying. Be wary of lots of stairs, this place definitely isn’t handicapped accessible.
I went with the group straight up to Speyside, did one day of distillery touring, and then Jenny and I struck off on our own. This is really ground zero for drinking scotch, loved our stay in Dufftown. I also have to say that Highland Spirit B&B is maybe the best B&B I have ever stayed in for my whole life. Worth it enough to make this your home base. Nice people who will give you great recommendations and will cook a great breakfast!
Distilleries we visited were Aberlour and Macallan. I would also SUPER recommend a stop at the Craigellachie Hotel. We had dinner at the Highlander Inn across the street (lovely), but the Quaich bar was overwhelming with their selection of 700+ (now 900+) whiskys from all over the world.
We drove from Dufftown around Inverness then down the west side of Loch Ness, then went straight east to Skye. Urquart castle was a good stopping point to see the Loch and snap some pics while keeping our eyes peeled for Nessie. If I had more time, a boat trip would have been fun, but that’s my travel MO – always look for a spot on a boat.
The road from Urquart to Skye is through a national park that I couldn’t figure out the name of, but seriously, one of the most punch you in the face beautiful drives I have ever been on. Like a Hawaiian amount of waterfalls. If you drive along the A87 you will be on the right road.
My real motivation on this trip is that I’d seen so many pictures of the Isle of Skye and it just blew my mind away. You could picture all the old highlanders in kilts on horses. There’s just an ineffable quality about it all. Great hikes. Old Man of Storr is probably the second best hike I have ever done. If you have good weather, you should do it. The Rick Steve’s Scotland book was super helpful with the drive around Skye. We stayed in Portree and it was so cute and amazing, I would definitely go back. I wanted to stay in a town where I could walk to pubs and restaurants as opposed to some of the prettier places out in the country. Loved the Merchant Bar. (Stayed at the Drumorell B&B – definitely book early. This place was lovely, but a bit farther up the hill than I would have picked if there was more availability)
START BINGING OUTLANDER BEFORE YOU GO. I AM OBSESSED. Mmm… Jaime Fraser…
Glenfinnan Viaduct is in all of the Harry Potter movies with the Hogwarts Express. When you google pics you’ll know what I mean. It was beautiful. Worth a detour. I looked into actually riding the train over the viaduct, and it seemed to be a lot of time to dedicate to it. Maybe on a future trip if I have a lot of time to kill, it would be great to get another perspective of it. Right nearby you can stop at the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard. We saw it out the car but didn’t stop.
Another spot that was worth the detour was Loch Leven – I don’t eat seafood but Jenny assured me that the Lochleven Seafood Cafe was the best of the best.
We stayed in Oban because it was a super cute port town. I really liked the vibe there. To balance out the trip and save some money, I stayed in my first and last hostel. (If that’s your thing, cool. I’m too fancy). The distillery there is pretty famous, but I only sampled at restaurants. Parking was difficult in this town.
From Oban, we went with Staffa Tours on the Three Isles Early Bird Tour. One of the very top things on my bucket list was to see Fingall’s cave. It was everything I hoped for, and I also loved being on a boat, and seeing the Puffins there. Like for real – what planet is that that places like this exist? We drove across Isle of Mull to get there and the scenery was gorgeous. There was time to spend on Iona (another gorgeous island), but we needed to drive to Edinburgh that night and didn’t want to take the time. Staffa Tours was great about getting us on an earlier bus with another group with the same company on a different itinerary.
Edinburgh (don’t pronounce it like Pittsburgh. It’s Edinburrah) is a super awesome town. Big uni, lots of history. Balance of touristy stuff and real life. The castle was cool, but we walked around it and didn’t go inside on the tour because it was the end of a 2 1/2 week trip and I couldn’t do another tourist thing. Loved walking on the Royal Mile and exploring the closes. Hiking up Arthur’s Seat was great!
We had the worst B&B experience ever to contrast the best one I mentioned earlier. They’re under new management now, but I would still avoid Ard Na Said at all costs.
Next time I want to go to Aberdeen and the real far north shit. Now that I’ve been learning more about Scotland and its history, I would like to see Culloden.